As well as being a much- appreciated opportunity for rural communities to see professional theatre in their locales, the West Cork Fit-Up Festival gives much needed work to actors during the summer months.
Now in its tenth year, the festival is modelled on the fit-ups of the 1950s when professional theatre companies travelled to villages, performing in makeshift venues during the summer. The Fit-Up Festival, from Blood in the Alley productions, has staged 42 productions of mostly new plays in 16 different locations in West Cork.
These venues are well suited to the work of playwright Erica Murray, who says she usually writes with a rural Irish community in mind. Originally from Adare, Co Limerick, Murray’s first play, The Cat’s Mother, is being staged at the festival until August 4.
“It’s very dark but also very funny,” says Murray who adds that, “Irish country people are really good at laughing at this kind of thing.”
The play, starring three actresses, is about the battle of two sisters to decide the fate of their mother. Sinead, who lives in Kilfenora, Co Clare, where she looks after their mother, arrives in her sister Ciara’s London home for the weekend.
Ciara thinks Sinead is in London for a bit of respite and enjoyment but Sinead has other plans. Ciara is confronted with making a choice that will have consequences for the sisters’ lives forever. A third actress plays multiple roles. There is much sibling tension in this play.
Murray, aged 28, says the play was inspired by her move to London two years ago. “I started thinking about being far away from my family. So many of my friends are moving away. It got me thinking about what is going to happen when our parents get old. It’s every parent’s nightmare to be a burden on their children and it’s the children’s nightmare to not be there to look after their parents. It’s a double-edged thing.”
Murray, who has an MFA in playwriting from the Lir Academy at Trinity College Dublin, and is one of this year’s recipients of the Channel Four Playwright’s Bursary Scheme Award, started her theatrical career as an actress. But she admits that during this time, she was mostly babysitting and doing bar work in Dublin.
“It was so hard to get acting work. Everyone (in the industry) knew who I was and thought I was this friendly girl. I used to babysit for the kids of loads of different directors, thinking they might hire me for acting work.”
Describing herself as “miserable” doing non-theatrical work, Murray, who had been writing all the time, realised that she gained most of her enjoyment from that.
I was writing secretly and put on a few things at the Dublin Fringe Festival. I realised I needed to take the writing more seriously. I left acting. I had lost my nerve a little bit and I was so much happier just writing. I find it way more satisfying creatively.
Keen to write roles for women, Murray can’t understand why there aren’t more female playwrights given that on her playwriting course, the women outnumbered the men.
“Some of my favourite playwrights are women, such as Nancy Harris and Sonya Kelly. I’ve become good friends with them. They are like mentors, really. David Ireland is also a playwright friend. They’re further on in their careers than me. It’s nice to be able to call them because writing is a very solitary job. You might get a bit down. It’s good to have support.”
Murray, who lives in London most of the time, relishes the anonymity of the UK capital. She says it helps her to focus on her writing.
She is currently working on a TV drama which she can’t talk about yet. She also writes short stories, more as an exercise than anything else. It’s all about keeping her writing muscle going, she says.